What is Caesalpinia?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Caesalpinia is a genus of flowering woody plants in the pea family. These plants are native to the subtropic and tropical regions of the world and have common names like bird of paradise bush, peacock flower, pride of Barbados, and spiny holdback. Nurseries sometimes carry seedlings, for people interested in cultivating these plants, and the plants can also be grown from seeds and cuttings in regions where mature plants are available as a source of materials for propagation.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

These plants vary in size, depending on the species, and tend to have a sprawling growth habit. The leaves are arranged in bipinnately compound rows for very lacy, delicate foliage. The large, colorful flowers come in colors like red, orange, and yellow, later developing into the distinctive pods associated with members of the pea family. Ornamental varieties are grown for their particularly showy flowers.

Some members of the Caesalpinia genus are thorny, and a number of species are also toxic. It is important to avoid allowing children and pets to chew on the pods or the foliage, as they may get sick. In Africa, there is a history of using some species as food sources after carefully soaking and processing the seeds. These plants are also used for their high quality tropical timber, which can be seen in furniture, musical instruments, and other projects.

Full sun to very light shade is required to grow a Caesalpinia. The plants require moderately rich soil with neutral alkalinity and excellent drainage. They also prefer frost-free environments. In the true tropics, the plants will live year round. In subtropical and slightly cooler zones, they may become deciduous, losing their leaves in the cool season and recovering in the spring. Frost will cause damage to a Caesalpinia plant and can kill it, if it is especially cold or prolonged.

Pruning and training are advised to help Caesalpinia species keep their shape. Gardeners should be wary of the thorns and may want to wear gloves to protect themselves. If the cuttings are burned, facial protection should be worn to avoid inhaling the smoke. The plants do well as specimen plantings and they can also be trained into hedges and background plantings. In the case of climates where the plants are deciduous, they can also be messy when they lose their leaves. The leaves can be left on the ground to act as mulch, or swept away if they become a nuisance.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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